The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
"The one who hears you - hears me, and the one who rejects you - rejects me, and the one who rejects me - rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10:16).
To hear one whom Jesus sends is to hear Jesus Himself. To reject one whom Jesus sends is to reject Jesus Himself. And to reject Jesus is to reject the Father who sent Him. Those are the words that engage us in this morning’s Gospel. It’s the Good news to those who acknowledge Him but it is bad news to those who reject Him.
It’s all in the sending. The Father sends Jesus and Jesus, in turn, sends others. His sends the 72 with His authority and power. It’s one of those great foundational stones of the Office of the Holy Ministry. You heard a bit of that in the beginning of the service. “As a called and ordained servant of the Word… and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” He who hears you, hears Me. You have Jesus’ Word on it. And where there is God’s Word, there is power.
The seventy-two were sent into Judea, ahead of Jesus. He was on His way to Jerusalem to die for the sin of the world. Why seventy-two? Why not eighty or a hundred? For that matter, why only twelve apostles? The numbers have great significance. Twelve represent Israel. The twelve apostles are Jesus’ new Israel. They represent His Church in all its fullness. What about seventy-two? Seventy-two is the number of the nations given in Genesis after the Flood. Perhaps this is what Jesus has in mind, and what Luke is trying to tell us. Jesus comes for all the nations, as in “make disciples of all the nations.” They are sent out 2 x 2 to cover the territory before Jesus arrives. It is a snapshot of the mission of the church, sent out into all the world to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus until He appears in glory. Where there is the Word there is life and there is power.
There is urgency in Jesus’ sending. The harvest field is ripe. No time to waste. He sends these seventy-two as laborers into the harvest field to grab what is ripe for the picking. There’s danger. They will be as lambs among the wolves, and we all know what happens to lambs among the wolves. Jesus is the Lamb who goes to His sacrificial death; He sends them out as lambs with nothing. They are empty, dependent, nothing to offer the world, no purse, no backpack, not even an extra pair of sandals. This is no vacation trip with the family. No polite greeting is to be said on the road. The urgency is too great. The kingdom of God has come.
Would you have gone under those terms? It’s disturbing to think about, isn’t it? What if you were one of those seventy-two? Last week we heard some excuses. “I need to bury my dad, or I need to say good-bye.” So how would you answer? Very likely, “Sorry, Jesus maybe you ought to pick someone else for this job.” But He doesn’t call you to leave house and home, to travel without a wallet or earthly comforts, or to live off the hospitality of others. You have your own calling, your vocation as father, mother, son, daughter, citizen, neighbor, worker, and friend. These too entail risks and dangers, and sometimes you don’t want to be there either. Like the prophet Jonah, who thought Spain might be a bit nicer than Nineveh. Where Jesus sends you, there He also blesses you. For where the Word is, there is blessing and where there is blessing there is power.
The seventy-two are sent to proclaim peace from the Prince of Peace. “Peace be to this house,” they are to say that before entering. It’s more than a happy little greeting like “Good morning, how are you?” A blessing, which gives what the words say – peace, Shalom. Everything in order and in harmony. Peace that surpasses all understanding. Peace that the world cannot give. Peace that comes from the cross-inflicted wounds of Jesus. That peace is what they are sent to deliver. Where the Word is, there is peace and there is power.
With peace comes healing, peace to the body. “Heal the sick,” Jesus says. He gives them the same authority over sickness that He has. He came to bear our sicknesses and all that sin has done to destroy the peace of this world right down to the cells of our bodies. Healing is for them a sign of the kingdom of God having come near. We have the yet greater sign - Jesus own Body and Blood, which strengthens and preserves us in body and soul to life everlasting. It’s the “medicine of immortality” the medicine of peace.
To receive any two of these seventy-two into your home is to receive the peace and health of Jesus. The kingdom of God has come near. Imagine a knock on your door, and a man identifies himself as an IRS agent. He tells you that he has some good news for you; your taxes have been paid in full for life. Or imagine someone driving up in one of those vans you see on TV, and a man comes to your door with a bunch of roses and balloons and video crew and announces that you have just won ten million dollars in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. If you’re convinced that these men have the authority to speak those words, you would take them at their word and rejoice in your good fortune, wouldn’t you?
“You sins are forgiven.” “This is my Body given for you. This is my Blood shed for you.” These are the Words of Jesus spoken to you through His minister, the one whom Jesus sent so that you might hear and believe. Our Lutheran Confessions tell us that when called ministers of Christ deal with us according to His mandate and institution; their words are as valid and certain as if Christ Himself were speaking them. The Confessions call the voice of absolution “a living voice of the Gospel” and “a voice coming down from heaven.” Even when the owner of the voice is less than honorable, nevertheless the words are Jesus’ words; the peace is Jesus’ peace. “He who hears you, hears me.”
It only goes wrong in the rejection. To those who would reject the seventy-two, even the dust clinging to the bottom of their feet testifies against them. The only way out is to refuse to be in. Jesus underscores this with His woes. Woe to Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum! Israelite cities. Cities that had lots of Jesus. Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom compare favorably. Even that wicked city of Sodom that was consumed by fire and brimstone fares better than an insider city, an Israelite city that refuses the Savior. The only way out is to refuse to be in.
What is unforgiveable about the unforgiveable sin is not how bad it is, or how destructive or great, but that it refuses forgiveness. That forgiveness is there all along for everyone. As near as the Word preached, as near as the water of Baptism, as near as the bread and wine upon the altar. This is how the kingdom of God is revealed to you. But to refuse these gifts, to reject what Jesus has died to win for you, to reject those whom He sends to you, is to incur the judgment of God’s wrath. “You shall be brought down to Hades.” And it is entirely unnecessarily, and entirely your own fault.
The seventy-two returned beaming with joy. “Even the demons submitted to us in your name.” Great fun it was casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching the kingdom. Such great fun it is stomping on snakes and scorpions, recognizing that though devils all the world should fill, they can harm us none. It is invigorating stuff, heady and intoxicating but often authority does go to one’s head.
We see it when people who have little authority in life are given some, how easily they switch to lording it over others. It happens in the workplaces and in the churches as well. But the nature of authority doesn’t permit the one who holds it to boast. Authority doesn’t reside in the person who has it, but the one who gave it. Authority is permission to act, given by one to another. It is always given. Even Jesus, who has “all authority in heaven and on earth” has it not on His own terms, but as given to Him by the Father.
The big thing in the kingdom is not who has the authority, or who holds the office. It’s not about everyone being a minister or ministers being the same as everyone else. To each is given as Lord sees fit, and for the good of all.
The big thing, the cause for rejoicing is that your names are written in heaven, written in the Book of Life of the Lamb who slain from the foundations of the world, written in His blood shed for you and for your sins. That’s the cause for your rejoicing. Your names are written in heaven, as surely as baptismal water poured over you, as surely as Jesus’ absolving words spoken into your ears, as surely as the Bread that is His Body and the Wine that is His Blood and it goes into your mouths, so surely are your names written in heaven. This is why the Father sent His Son into the world; this is why the Son sends His ministers, His agents, to tell with all certainty that the kingdom of God has come near to you, that Jesus has come near to you, that His peace and life are yours, and that your names are written in heaven.
Hold on to those words. Trust to those words. Cling to those words today and every day until the last day. They are as certain and sure as the One who promises, “He who hears you, hears me.” Those words hold power for they are Jesus Words. For Jesus is the Word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us. He is the Word of life in Him is power. For in Jesus all your sins have been forgiven in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, In the Jesus name, amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.